As a mother of a 5 year old I have a strong desire to protect him from the events of the world in which he lives. My wish is to wrap him in cottonwool and save him from any pain or hardship. But when reality sets in I realise that I would rather provide him with the armour of knowledge than leave him to make uninformed deductions. As we face the onslaught of both the earthquake in Japan and war in Libya, it is essential we talk to our children in a way that is sensitive and age appropriate. Children have a strong sense of the happenings of the world, but they may lack the ability to communicate them effectively.
Some points for consideration:
- Children under 8 may find it difficult to differentiate between make believe and reality. It may also be very frightening for them to see so keep visuals to a limit. If they are afraid, try to acknowledge their fears and reassure their safety. Explain that these tragedies are rare occurrences. Always be honest, calm and clear and try not to go into any unnecessary details that may frighten them. Literature may help to explain it to younger children (Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou; Chibi: A true story from Japan by Barbara Brenner & Julia Takaya).
- Older children (grd3-8) may be more curious about these events. Watch the news with them but make sure that the visuals are not overly sensational. There are some great websites that are child friendly (you can try: Time for kids and The Restless Planet: Earthquakes). Find the answers together and explore more. If you don’t know the answers be honest and help your child find the answer. Keep an open ear and mind, allow your child the space to explore and gain their own opinion without force or judgement.
- Use these events as an opportunity to model compassionate behaviour. Let your children know how you feel and involve them in helping the victims of these tragedies by donating some money from their piggy banks.
Provide support for your child by staying aware of their physical and emotional reactions to these events. Children who seem preoccupied or very stressed about war, fighting or terrorism should be evaluated by a qualified mental health professional. Some signs to look out for include: ongoing sleep trouble, persistent upsetting thoughts, fearful images or nightmares, intense fears about death and separation anxiety.
Lets arm our children with the gift of knowledge we all know they deserve it!